Flying through Heathrow would have been a horror show, I knew, but I was still a little reluctant about the Eurostar, mainly because it runs through the Chunnel, the tunnel under the English Channel. I’m not a fan of tunnels or other enclosed spaces, and I couldn’t help remembering that there had been a bad accident there a while back.
Photo of Eurostar train by Dave Bushell http://www.canbush.com/ppbfrontpage.htm from Wikimedia Commons
But a second class ticket was very reasonable, only about $117 one-way at the current exchange rate (I did get a senior discount). So I booked.
Here’s what they don’t tell you when you take the Eurostar: Despite the fact that you’re going from one EU country to another, you must go through both French and English passport control, and airport-type security, before boarding the train. In other words, don’t expect to zoom through the station. I’d screwed up already when I arrived at the Gare du Nord because I’d read my ticket wrong the night before. So I got there 20 minutes before the train left – and I was at the back of a very long line.
To the credit of Eurostar’s management, they kept that line moving. A slim man in front of me got stopped by security. He was wearing at least six pairs of pants layered over each other, and a like number of shirts and jackets. They jerked him out the line and made him start stripping, but I didn’t have time to see if they got down to his skivvies. I shoved my bags on the belt and snatched them from the other side. Fortunately, they didn’t make me dig my computer out of my backpack.
“Vite, vite, vite!” a uniformed woman at the platform yelled. I had one minute to get on board, and my reserved seat car was just behind the TGV engine. This is one long train; my car looked was tiny in the distance. A man in Eurostar uniform snatched my backpack and ran alongside me. He practically stuffed me on the train, and I felt the train gliding the minute I got my duffel on board.
It’s a beautiful ride. Within minutes we were swooshing through the French countryside, past fields of corn and wheat. My only indication of how fast we were really moving was when we ran parallel to a highway and smoothly passed every car.
The long tunnel, to my surprise, was only 20 minutes of the total ride. And when we emerged, it seemed we were practically in London. The sun-washed fields of France yielded to low grey cloud over England. But I was sunny inside; I’d take the Eurostar again any chance I get.